Hiking in a winter wonderland – Len Foote Hike Inn

Growing tired of over-priced, over-hyped New Year’s Eve celebrations, a friend and I decided to ring in the New Year in nature by spending two nights at Georgia’s Hike Inn.

I thought Georgia would be warmer. It’s The South – palmetto trees and peaches and such; sweatshirt weather at most. But when I checked the weather two days before I flew out, I saw that it would be 32 degrees in the nearest town, colder in the mountains. Brrr!

The morning of New Years Day we awoke before most revelers had gone to sleep, leaving the quiet streets of downtown Atlanta and heading north. The drive is about two hours into the Chattahoochee National Forest and Amicalola (Cherokee word meaning “tumbling waters”) State Park.

What to wear: I had no official “gear” at this point in my life, so I wore two pairs of pants, a long sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt and jacket, with gloves and a neckwarmer that I used as a headband, and hiking socks and boots. We didn’t need to bring much – the Hike Inn provides all the food, blankets, towels, etc. The water bladder in my backpack was a much better choice than a water bottle in the side of my friend’s backpack. The water bottles froze but against my body, my bladder didn’t. The water in the hose froze the next day, so I learned to blow the water back into the main bladder after each sip.

From the parking lot atop of Amicalola Falls, we had two choices – the Hike Inn Trail, or the Springer Mountain Trail. Springer Mountain is the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail, and we decided to go that route. The hike was moderate but completely immersive in the woods so it was delightful. Intermittent climbs up were rewarded with flat expanses, making me feel like I was making progress.img_6551

There wasn’t much to see on the trail – trees but no critters or birds. Sometimes the trees would creak and sway in the wind, and we wondered just how strong those trees could be before they snapped. It was very remote; I don’t recall seeing a single person on the trail. It’s about 5 miles to the Hike Inn, the last part being flat so I began to relax knowing I was almost at my destination.

Seeing the grey roof of the Inn was a welcome site. We checked into our “bunkroom,” a sparse but cozy space- the perfect blend of woodland delight and comfort. The Inn is almost off the grid – a LEED-Certified green building with solar power, composting toilets, and is built on stilts to minimize the impact on the soil. An eco-nerd at heart, I loved the staff-led tour sharing the Inn’s notable conservation practices.

Meals were delicious! We gathered with other guests in the dining hall and were served family style. We were encouraged to take only what we needed and to eat everything on our plate. If food was in the serving dish it could be composted, but if it was on our plate it had to be disposed of in the garbage. This became a game for each table as leftover food was weighed at the end of the meal and each table was given a happy or sad face.

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The Sun Room provided games and books. I found myself chasing the sunshine around the room like a cat, moving from cozy spot to cozy spot in pursuit of the sun’s warm rays to ward off the chill that seeped in from the outside. At night, they provided an astronomy talk, inspiration for gazing at the brilliant night skies of the forest.

The bunkrooms were remarkably warm and comfy. A few minutes before sunrise, a staff person walked the halls outside the bunks beating a gentle drum, a signal for those who want to watch the sunrise over the mountains. I climbed out of my warm bed and the sight was well worth the trek into the morning cold.

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That day we hiked toward Springer Mountain. I didn’t go the whole way, opting for a short hike in 17 degrees and snow flurries, followed by reading in the Sun Room. The showers at Hike Inn are surprisingly good and refreshing.

 

We spent another night at Hike Inn, and caught another sunrise before heading out the next day. It was 11 degrees when we started our hike. We took the Hike Inn trail back, which wraps around the other side of the mountain and provides gorgeous views of the rolling hills.

It was a refreshing start to the New Year and I loved it. The only thing I’d change is my clothes, primarily upgrading to moisture wicking shirts and long underwear instead of the bulk of two pairs of pants.

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